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Oct 01, 2004

Comments

1.

>Who is the author of a game? How should we speak of authorship?<

Wow, what an excellent question :)

I think it varies from game to game, and to a certain extent from house to house (i.e., software company). Some games are clearly the product of a singular vision (AC1). Others are equally clearly the product of a team of designers (Lineage II, EverQuest). Still others are the product of a series of iterations, with each iteration having a different guiding voice in how it should be structured/arranged (AC2).

In games of the first type, like AC1, Chris L'Etoile was very clearly the "author" of the game. He designed the world and the races within it; he wrote the backstory and the plots of the episodes; he defined the history of the world which informed the monthly events. He also wrote the critical lore which gave players their 'instructions' on how to advance the story arc. When he left Turbine, the impetus of the game went south in a hurry. I would argue that games of this type are more plot-driven than the other types.

In games of the second or third type, there is often no 'goal' - Things Just Happen. While there are events (an Orc Invasion, for example) only the flimsiest of excuses is presented for why the event is occurring - there is no consistent sense of history, it is just an isolated incident which is designed to provide an opportunity for players to kill things, see the latest eye-candy and get phat lewt.

An example of this type of game is Horizons - the backstory is extremely trite and 2-dimensional. There were a lot of kingdoms. A guy in the Distant Past turned undead, making many converts. A war happened, running people underground - now the people are emerging again. The more people build, the more likely the Undead are to attack that area. No motivations are ascribed to anyone; there is no lore, and historical knowledge of the world is irrelevant to the game, unlike AC1.

Given this lack of overarching plot and general irrelevance of history or social consequence outside the player community, how can there be an authorial voice? Can there be an author with no story?

2.

I think the analogy to auteur studies is more apt than might be apparent. While the French film criticism focused on directors, today it is just as common to describe a film as being most characteristically a product of a particular producer (Jerry Bruckheimer ~ metteur theory?), studio (Miramax or Sony Pictures Classics ~ studio theory?), or writer (John Grisham ~ ecrivain theory?). Certainly the major studios also "branded" their films throughout the heyday of the studio system, churning out hundreds of films that shared common features (and most frequently actors), irrespective of the director.

In a similar vein, it seems just as productive to label a game a Rockstar product, or a game by Benoit Sokal. The need for a singular "author" for a game smacks of what Michel Foucault refers to as the "author function" (a festishism that valorizes the identity and history of the author at the expense of substantive analysis of the work), more so than any real need for an interpretive and descriptive handle for the game.

I guess an important question that comes out of this line of thought is: What does the desire (need?) for a game's singular, identifiable "auteur" say about the state of game theory and criticism today? About academic inquiry in general?

Do we really need celebrity auteurs to legitimize game studies?

3.

Does it matter that we can't easily assign authorship to NBA Live 20XX? Probably not.
Does that de-legitimize game studies? Probably not.
Does that mean that the medium doesn't need auteurs? Not necessarily.

There is always value in scarcity and what is scare in the medium is games that embody a singular vision other than pure capitalistic entertainment. Will Wright, Chris Crawford, Gonzalo Frasca, Ian Bogost, Jim Andrews, Eddo Stern, Rob Nideffer, Yugo Nakamura, and to many more to mention...we need individuals like these to show us how the medium could be rather than the mainstream that simply reiterates what the current corporate ideology is.

We don't need celebrities. We need visionaries.

4.

So this is a topic near and dear to my heart, and to things I've posted here: e.g. 1, 2, 3.

And I've also been working on a law review article about authors as brands, plagiarism, and credit that takes up many of these questions in the context of the regulation of intellectual property under trademark and copyright law (not much about virtual worlds in it). Working title: "The Trademark Function of Authorship." I can't share the draft quite yet, but I'll post a link here when I do.

Anyhoo...

My take is that the concept of the director/auteur or the celebrity actor, while dishonest and deceptive in the sense that it fails to recognize the collaborative nature of artistic production and provide "credit" to non-dominant authors (e.g. the gaffer, the costume artist, the best boy), is an inevitable result of marketing artistic experience goods, and not a bad or harmful thing in the case of massive collaborative projects.

The key point is that while Foucault and Barthes make a compelling argument with regard to the interpretive role of the critic in search of some kind of hermenuetic truth of a text, those don't play out well as information policy designed to produce (not interpret) work.

With "major" game budgets growing to Hollywood levels, the auteur model may actually be one key to giving game creators the artistic freedom to innovate. When auteurs of games or movies can sell with their names, they gain creative leverage over the product -- e.g. final cut rights. The alternative model is to make all the artists into artisans and vest the greatest power in investors. The end result of that path is artistic safety. Churning out licensed, derivative, competent things that don't take chances. That happens too much already, and the less it happens the better off we'll all be.

But *big point* to note here, Tim -- the gaping hole I see in your post as it were -- is that while the film comparison might make some sense with regard to single-player video games for the PS2 and such, the MMORPG experience is a completely different animal -- it's social. Check out Torill Mortensen's thesis for an in-depth take on this issue.

And to a certain extent, you can raise the same kinds of questions about other forms of games. Take, for instance, Karpov or Michael Jordan -- they played games. But what's more interesting to analyze for the critic, the game or the player? How can we know the dancer from the dance?

5.

Tim > Academic scholarship about videogames can draw on a less accessible but powerful theoretical apparatus that permits scholars to deflect or defer reference to the author function or perhaps even reject it altogether

Just to talk booking for a moment I thought that people might be interested in some work that was done last year, and we might want to continue the MMO part of it here,,,

Last summer we had a long discussion on the DIGRA list about how to reference games. The results were complied by Stanislav Roudavski and Elliott Dumville and can be found here: https://www.stanislavroudavski.net/Research_Prj/Game_Refs_Prj/Header.htm

This is a summary of where we got to:

Video Game

These are the core reference meta-data:

• Title (required: new versions, themed releases and other modifications sold as complete games are referenced additionally)
• Platform (required: manufacturer + hardware e.g. Sony PlayStation, Nintendo GameCube, etc. Only reference the hardware you have used for testing/playing)
• Version or Patch (required for PC, Mac, or other OS-based systems only, shown as a number)
• Designer (optional, (and often excessive) can include lead designer, lead programmer, producer. If used, you must specify their title/role e.g. Lead Designer: Warren Spector)
• Developer (required: company - occasionally (and rarely) a person)
• Publisher (required)
• Country of release (required)
• Year of release (required)


Videogame Modification

This type includes commercial expansion packs, mods, maps and modules

Additional Fields:

• Title of Modification (required)
• Platform of Modification (required: manufacture + hardware e.g. Sony PlayStation, Nintendo GameCube, PC, etc. Note: this information, as well as that from the version field, are always included in the expansion-pack part of the reference and excluded from the host-game part of the reference)
• Version of Modification (required. See above)
• Type of Modification (required. E.g. Expansion pack for; 'Mod' for (in quote marks as it is esoteric to games people); Map for, etc. Please offer suggestions)
• Modification Designer (optional)
• Modification Developer (required only if different from host game)
• Modification Publisher (required only if different from host game)
• Country of Release (required)
• Year of Modification Release (required)


Massive Multi-Player Online Game

MMRPG and other Internet-based worlds

Additional Fields:
• URL: (required)?
• Server: (optional, if applicable)?
• Date of Access: (required)?

Any thoughts on how best to expand this last category?

6.

Having spent a chapter of my book writing about it, I guess it's no surprise that I'm heavily in favour of an auteur theory of virtual worlds. My reasons (well, the ones that first spring to mind):

1) Virtual worlds with no overall vision have no soul. They're like novels with multiple authors - the superficial reigns, any depth is contrived.

2) Auteurs release artistic freedom. People will play a virtual world on faith, just because it was designed by a particular person. This means the auteur can push at the boundaries in a way that a non-auteur can't.

3) Auteurs understand what they're designing more than a committee of designers ever could, even if those designers are individually smarter than the auteur. The result is a better-designed virtual world.

I could go into more detail on each of these, but I'll spare you that for now...

Richard

7.


auteur theory of virtual worlds

Essentially agreeing with this, however, I wonder if it is too simplistic in this one regard wrt MMOs. Namely unlike, say, literature certainly, and arguably, cinema possibly, MMOs represent much more the "art of the possible." Engineering and business side considerations loom larger viz impacting the auteur/designer's options. This may speak to a broader, multi-disciplinary "auteur" evaluation.

Sure, all auteurs are constrained by their medium as well as their audience. Having said that, if MMOs are working with tighter margins requiring more iteration (engineering - design trade-offs), perhaps a more complex view should be considered.

8.

Richard> Having spent a chapter of my book writing about it, I guess it's no surprise that I'm heavily in favour of an auteur theory of virtual worlds. My reasons (well, the ones that first spring to mind):

Richard, I'm also "I'm heavily in favour of an auteur theory" if by that you mean: 1) giving key creative individuals -- "auteurs" -- substantial control over the architectural deisign of virtual worlds pre- and post-release and 2) using attribution of those individuals as a means of marketing virtual worlds.

My problem with Tim's question was that when we take a critical view of virtual worlds and/or talk about their value, it would be ridiculous to ignore the fact that players become a substantial authorial force in virtual worlds. You just can't speak about virtual worlds as objects independent of player performance.

But putting that aside, and focusing only on the design issue...

Richard> 1) Virtual worlds with no overall vision have no soul. They're like novels with multiple authors - the superficial reigns, any depth is contrived.

The first sentence is tautological, I think, and the second doesn't follow the first, and the second is probably not true. What's so superficial about collaborative authorship, what's so "contrived" about the depth of collaborative authorship? I agree that when collaborators have conflicting visions, the result of their efforts is often a mish-mash -- but when collaborators share a vision, we get good movies and opera, right?

Richard> 2) Auteurs release artistic freedom. People will play a virtual world on faith, just because it was designed by a particular person. This means the auteur can push at the boundaries in a way that a non-auteur can't.

I generally agree with this, though I'm not sure what a "non-auteur" is.

Richard> 3) Auteurs understand what they're designing more than a committee of designers ever could, even if those designers are individually smarter than the auteur. The result is a better-designed virtual world.

What could that possibly mean? When A makes X, A understand X better than B, C, and D could possibly understand X. But when B,C, and D make Y, they (collectively) understand Y better than A could possibly understands Y, right? So it's a wash, isn't it?

I agree that artistic work will generally be more interesting when there is a coherent vision articulated, but are you saying it is impossible for a team of designers to agree upon and articulate a coherent vision? Why do you think that's so? Isn't that exactly what *has* to be done in any event?

I'd say that the B,C, and D "shared vision" model is the one that produces virtual worlds today, and where it is done, the game is successful. I think auteur A (and maybe A2 and A3) should be in the mix and allowed to guide, manage, cajole, and articulate a singular vision, but you can't deny that, after all that effort, outside of marketing, the auteur is essentially a manager of collaborative authorship.

9.

greglas>I'm also "I'm heavily in favour of an auteur theory" if by that you mean: 1) giving key creative individuals -- "auteurs" -- substantial control over the architectural deisign of virtual worlds pre- and post-release and 2) using attribution of those individuals as a means of marketing virtual worlds.

That's what I do mean, although I don't see it as just a branding thing; I believe that you genuinely do get a better kind of virtual world if all the design goes through one person.

>You just can't speak about virtual worlds as objects independent of player performance.

You can, in the same way that you can speak about Shakespeare's plays as objects independent of actor performance. The players do (as a group) contribute to what the virtual world is, yes, of course, but only in the context laid down by the designer.

Some designers like to manage their worlds after launch, attempting to direct their behaviour if it strays from "the vision". That's fair enough, although I personally prefer to present the players with the world and let them get on with it. An architect can attempt to shape a community through architecture, but once they've handed over the buildings it's for the community to make of them as they will. Nevertheless, the architect's art will have an effect on that community.

>What's so superficial about collaborative authorship, what's so "contrived" about the depth of collaborative authorship?

The depth is contrived because if the message coming from the art is to make any sense it has to be the intersection of what each authorial voice has to say. Superficiality comes because it's only on the surface that the authors can express themselves in a reasonably unfettered way.

I'm not saying that different things can be said by different people along different dimensions. In movies, the cinematography, music and acting can all be appreciated as art in their own terms, for example. It's the director who is the "holder of the vision", however, and no matter how good the cinematrography, music or acting it's the director who decides whether it fits or not. Even when a movie is seen to be defined by its cinematography, music or acting, it's usually that way because the director saw it that way.

If two people are so emotionally and intellectually close that they know and share the same vision, then they could collaborate to express the same vision. For others, though, no. If you look through more than one pair of eyes, you see different things.

The thing is, the designer is saying something that's implicit within them, using the virtual world to explicate it. If they were expressing a point that was explicit from the beginning (as might, say, the joint authors of an academic paper) then I wouldn't have a problem; on the other hand, it wouldn't be art.

>I'm not sure what a "non-auteur" is.

I mean someone who creates to someone else's vision along the vision's main dimension. If for a movie the artistic vision is the producer's, the director can still be creative but only in limited ways; in this case, the producer would be the auteur (although not necessarily a good one).

>When A makes X, A understand X better than B, C, and D could possibly understand X. But when B,C, and D make Y, they (collectively) understand Y better than A could possibly understands Y, right? So it's a wash, isn't it?

I mean A understands X better than B, C and D understand Y, because X comes from A's psyche whereas Y comes from some negotiated (and therefore incomplete) intersection of B, C and D's psyche.

I'm talking almost hypothetically here, by the way, in that at the moment there are very few designers willing or capable of putting this amount of themselves into a virtual world.

>are you saying it is impossible for a team of designers to agree upon and articulate a coherent vision

No, it's possible, but the vision won't have the same depth.

>you can't deny that, after all that effort, outside of marketing, the auteur is essentially a manager of collaborative authorship

The collaboration is not of equals, it's a hierarchy from the lead designer down. This doesn't mean that people can't be individually creative, but it does mean that they are (or should be) chosen because their particular creative strengths fit the overall picture the designer has in mind. In movie terms, a director who wants a particular kind of wide, open spaces look to their location shots would hire a cinematographer who revelled in those kinds of shots. The cinematographer might produce shots that exceeded the director's expectations, and cause the director to adjust their overall vision of the movie as a result; it's still the director who decides whether the shots go in the cut, though.

So yes, an auteur does manage a collaborative effort. However, that editing, filtering, selection and rejection is a part of their art. I say "a part" because this isn't all that an auteur designer would do - they'd actually do some hands-on designing, too - but it's a lot of it.

Richard

10.

Richard> No, it's possible, but the vision won't have the same depth

That's an intriguing assertion and the correctness of it isn't obvious to me. However, more interesting is whether or not focusing on the author is the right thing to do. As Tim points out, he can recognize a Molyneux game but doesn't like them. So, is it more worthwhile to focus on the game as successful (or at least fun) than on who the author was? Is it somehow more appropriate to criticize the failings of Attack of the Clones because we can also slag on Lucas? Or is it simple enough to break down the thin characterization and unbearable dialog?

As a low-brow programmer, I may be missing the point, but I'm not sure that you need to know that Molyneux was behind Black and White in order to analyze what worked and what didn't from a game design perspective. On the other hand, focusing too much on the author may lead to a priori decisions about future games that are incorrect.

Whether the game is fun or not actually returns me to Richard's great comment. When singular vision is taken to an extreme and not limited, creative disasters can occur (John Romero springs to mind, or Hudson Hawk). Individuals just aren't as smart as teams, even if the individual is smarter than every member of the team. So I don't think that there is any question that leaders who have visions, are able to share that vision with others, AND are able to listen to others will be superior to those who only are able to do the first two.

A separate thought, which my 10 minutes of laptop battery won't allow me to go into, is the fact that "authorship" in the context of designers, artists and programmers is a very interesting question.

Another separate thought, is that for MMOGs, I would think that urban planning and sociology may be a far superior method of analysis. In only a few cities (and only a few points in history) do you learn more about the city by reading a biography of the mayor than by studying the citizens and how they live together.

11.

oh wow, I recently saw someone give a paper on this general issue -- multiple authors for works of art -- and he was drawing heavily on the example of televisions shows which are typically produced by committee. He then went on to point out that works of literature *used* to be the product of many authors over many years (Beowulf, Arthurian Literature, folk literature, etc). We talked briefly, and the team produced game (and MMORPG produced content) would seem to be more the norm than the exception if you look at fictional work over a broader time span. Oh and I had a film theory class from Sarris once. Not sure why people find his position persuasive since he didn't actually argue for it but merely opined it.

12.

Richard -- thanks, I'm not sure I agree totally, but I think we're not as far apart as I thought we were.

Cory -- I was kind of waiting for you to chime in on this one. It seems to me the viability of collaborative authorship has got to be a very interesting issue in Second Life.

Urizenus> He then went on to point out that works of literature *used* to be the product of many authors over many years...

It still is, right? It's hard to think of a virtual world that is not, at least in part, derivative of prior games and virtual worlds. It would be just as hard to write a poem using novel words. (And you might think the Jabberwocky fits the bill, but the words are amalgams, as Humpty Dumpty explained.) All art is contrained by previous rules, conventions, tropes, structure... anyway, yada yada... Yet there are good works and bad works -- Shakespeare might have reworked Romeo and Juliet from other and have been reworked himself by West Side Story etc., but it's clear his version is something special. On the topic of that kind of collaboration, it's fascinating to me to look at the MEO Dev Diaries and see how the individual non-auteurs (to use Richard's definition) on the project see themselves as "collaborating," to some extent, with the vision of the books, the MMORPG genre, (probably the films though they probably can't admit it), and each other.

13.

Greg> Cory -- I was kind of waiting for you to chime in on this one. It seems to me the viability of collaborative authorship has got to be a very interesting issue in Second Life.

It's funny because I've had this discussion with a few different people recently whose mental models of SL have tipped. The central authorship on Second Life itself is, I think, far less important than the ability of our users to author their own creations, whether alone or collaboratively. Hence the question about cities. The creator of the typewriter or any other creative tool certainly has some impact on the creations themselves -- I think Nathan had started the great thread on MMO UIs and their impact on the gameplay -- but it is generally the wrong focus if you're trying to understand the creations.

Second Life is much more usefully analyzed, I believe, as a place than as a creative work. That doesn't mean that it isn't a creative work, or intended to diminish the impact of the millions of decisions that everyone involved with the project have made -- sort of like shortchanging the director's role in Blair Witch because the actors filmed so much of it -- but the impact of the user's creations must stand on their own.

14.

This conversation is particularly fascinating when viewed in the context of the notion of game designers as "the gods" as described so well in the Hunter-Lastowka paper. In the early days of Judaism, there was a long dispute between the proponents of Yahweh as the one and only god, and those who believed that he could be worshipped together with the more traditional pagan gods. According to religious scholars, the first book of Genesis which we are all familiar with as depicting the world being created in 6 days by Yahweh as a single god, is actually a re-write of an earlier version in which the world was created through a dialectical struggle between Baal and Lotan, the sea-monster of Canaanite creation mythology. The appeal of the earlier, pantheistic version is that it allows ordinary mortals to identify more with the gods that created the world, since the gods, like mortals, experience conflict and strife. In turn, the identification of mortals with the gods permits mortals to view the world as made of the same substance as the gods. The later version, however, carries the notion that god is aloof and not made of the same substance as the world that he brought into being. Translating all this into the process of creation of virtual worlds, it becomes evident that the auteur approach is equivalent to the single god notion in the later version of the creation myth. This raises the notion that, from the point of view of being able to identify with the creator of a virtual world, and therefore experience it more richly, it is better to visit a virtual world that one knows to have been created through the dialectical struggles inherent in a collaborative approach, rather than a world created by the omnipotent auteur. The auteur approach yields better results in non-interactive media such as films, where there is no immersive world. Applying the auteur theory to virtual worlds reminds me of the scene from "Looney Tunes" where Elmer Fudd chases Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck into the Salvador Dali painting with the melting watch and Daffy, on seeing Elmer's gun droop, says "This is thurrealistic!" In other words, auteurs creating virtual worlds will often end up with inappropriate or insufficient interaction with the world by visitors due to a lack of empathy.

15.

Interesting article with a bit that's relevant to this topic. It's about the way publishers in Japan are quickly losing ground. It mentions one of the reasons being that Japanese game designers are allowed to act like prima donnas.

So when does an auteur cross the line into being a prima donna and go from being an asset to his company to being a liability?

--matt

16.

Jesper Juul just linked to this essay by Andy Cameron about interactivity and interpretation, and two snippets below seem relevant to Tim's original question: The first bit highlights the danger of reading Foucault too reflexively onto "interactive" forms (but is more about the author/player relation than the designer/co-designer), and the second explains the strategic appeal of rescuing games from an interpretive ghetto by attacking authorship.


Hypertext for Landow is post-structuralism made flesh, transubstantiated - Foucault's death of the Author a corpse, Derridean dÈbordement actualized as hypertextual annotation... The problem with this kind of literal and utopian mapping of post-structuralist theory onto new technology is that it fails to acknowledge its own excessiveness. It is ironic that a set of theories which stress plurality and indeterminacy should be employed in the service of a reductive equivalence between very different types of discourse, a critical discourse of interpretation on the one hand and an instrumental discourse of interaction on the other....

We have seen how a putative theory of interactivity might oscillate between the preferred register of the post-modern (serious, plural, decentred and legitimated by the academy) and the frivolous register of the game (playful, ephemeral, banal and without value)

Kind of funny -- Cameron says interactivity may try to escape the register of games by appealing to postmodern concepts of authorship and narrative, but obviously games can't escape the frivolous resigister of games. :-)

17.

I think Matt meant to link to this.

There's also this in Newsweek too, btw, which demonstrates that the virtual property thing is still news in some corners of the world...

18.

Cory Ondrejka>As Tim points out, he can recognize a Molyneux game but doesn't like them.

Me too - I've saved a ton of money that way. The thing is, plenty of people do like Peter Molyneux's games and will buy them simply because he designed them.

>So, is it more worthwhile to focus on the game as successful (or at least fun) than on who the author was?

Well hopefully the two are related: the game is successful because of who the author was.

This works fine in other industries. After J. K. Rowling finishes her Harry Potter series, she's going to start some new series. Are people going to be more or less predisposed to buy books in that series because they liked the Harry Potter series? Well yes, of course. Otherwise, there would be no point in putting the author's name on the cover of books. If an author has written one book you enjoyed, you'll want to find more books by the same author.

>As a low-brow programmer, I may be missing the point, but I'm not sure that you need to know that Molyneux was behind Black and White in order to analyze what worked and what didn't from a game design perspective.

You don't, but then if you do know it's a Molyneux game you can read more into it. It's a natural progression of his god game theme: early games like Populous made no comment on the morals of players, then with Dungeon Keeper the player explicitly took on the role of "bad guy". With B&W, the players were being asked to make their actions back up their ideals - ie. you can't act bad and expect to be treated like you acted good. Now if you don't know about Molyneux's history you're missing out this great chunk of what the game is about. You can look at the mechanics of the gameplay and find them lacking, but you're missing its soul.

>When singular vision is taken to an extreme and not limited, creative disasters can occur

This is the main flaw of the auteur theory - the auteurs can begin to believe in their infallability.

Richard

19.

Cory Ondrejka>The central authorship on Second Life itself is, I think, far less important than the ability of our users to author their own creations

But isn't the ability of users to author their own creations is a direct consequence of the artistic vision behind SL?

SL is interesting because the art-within-art is along a dimension similar to the art itself. A virtual world used for machima has art-within-art, but it's along a different dimension; with SL, people are creating virtual worlds within a virtual world, so there's more of a dialogue between them. It's still one-sided, in that you don't implement whatever your players tell you they want you to implement, but it's more egalitarian than most set-ups.

I don't have any problem with saying that the people who create their own sub-worlds within SL can have their own artistic visions, or even share a general vision (like an artistic movement) within the framework of which they say their own things. Each of those sub-worlds can have its own auteur, without any contradiction.

>Second Life is much more usefully analyzed, I believe, as a place than as a creative work.

Wasn't that why it was built? Or has its use in practice changed from what was originally envisaged in its construction?

Richard

20.

Richard> But isn't the ability of users to author their own creations is a direct consequence of the artistic vision behind SL?

Yes.

Richard> Wasn't that why it was built?

Yes. I'm not trying to take anything away from those of us (and there were many voices -- mucho credit to Philip Rosedale building a foundation of collaborative creation!) who have built/are building SL, I just want to make sure that the resident creators get their due as well.

21.

Cory Ondrejka>I just want to make sure that the resident creators get their due as well.

Sorry if I was giving the impression that they shouldn't.

With SL's attitude to content it's possible that individuals can themselves develop their own styles and artistic voice that would give them auteur status. I don't expect the majority of them to go that deep - they're there to have fun, not to express some inner feeling through their work - but for those that do, well, that's great.

Richard

22.

For computer and video games, my scheme is to recognize the lead designer, technical lead, art lead, and producer, in that order.

For MMOGs, this breaks down, however, mainly because there is no 'final product,' no fixed, tangible expression of the game. EQ today is a very different game from EQ at launch, and the live team is hugely responsible for the changes.

It may be that you can't really assign credit to anything other than "the studio"--although I resist this idea, since I really believe that only people could, and prefer to try to figure out a way to credit actual people responsible.

On the other hand--maybe this is a problem suspectible to a technological fix? If I'm writing a book, the best I can really do is put one or several names in parentheses after a work. On the Internet, why can't I link to a complete list of credits for work that is genuinely collaborative, even if the list is hundreds of names long?

23.

Greg> For computer and video games, my scheme is to recognize the lead designer, technical lead, art lead, and producer, in that order.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here! Credits are full of landmines -- I guess it isn't too shocking that movies have various unions and guilds to mandate rules for credits.

"Who made a game?" is such a tricky question, and your schema breaks down even for single player games. In games, the publisher generally gets to make the credits whatever they want them to be, futher complicating the issue. Richard, Jim et al can chime in with their experiences, but the "author" of the game often varies from the order you proposed -- and, alas, is often only known by the folks who actually worked on the game. While Molyneux will always be listed front and center, many of the driving forces in the game industry keep much lower profiles. Plus, publishers often actively hide the specifics of studios in order to reduce the chance of their studios getting separate deals.

I would think that serious film scholars would have tricks and techniques for teasing out the drivers behind films. Perhaps they would be well applied to games as well?

24.

Cory> I would think that serious film scholars would have tricks and techniques for teasing out the drivers behind films.

Hmm... my brief experience with film studies and the literature make me think that, past exploring the auteur, the "serious film scholars" generally don't do much teasing out of authorship past the credits -- if they even care about the credits that much. They seem to approach films much like a literary critic approaches a text, more interested in their own critical riffing than in authorial hagiography. (Maybe there are other species of scholarly film critics out there who trace gaffers and such -- my contact with them was quite limited and years out of date.)

If you're in Hollywood production, however, I'm sure there are many who are familiar with the true identities of various Alan Smithees and the contributions of folks like Marni Nixon. And I'm quite sure there are people all around Hollywood today who are eager to inform everyone who will listen of their incredible uncredited contributions to the works of Steven Spielberg et al.

25.

Richard>Auteurs release artistic freedom. People will play a virtual world on faith, just because it was designed by a particular person.

In Foucault’s conception of the author role, the author is identified by and inextricably linked to their oeuvre. The author, in what they say(/write/paint/make/etc) and what they do not say are intentionally defining themselves and their contribution to discourse. I think it’s difficult to adapt his concept of the author to games without bringing along the oeuvre as well.

A few of the examples already mentioned in this thread make mention of Blizzard, Molyneux, etc. They both have an oeuvre, though one is an individual and one is a large company. Both carefully define their oeuvre through each item they contribute to the discourse of games, and through those they choose not to. This idea might be more easily recognized (and easily spelled) as controlling their image.

One thing we’ve learned (perhaps too well) from films is how to isolate parts from the whole in our criticism. We’ve all seen a movie where a talented actor is “doing their best with a badly written script” or where our favorite book was badly adapted through a bad screenplay, bad casting, etc.

We do it with games too, to some extent: We might love a game’s story despite its horrible network code, or defend a 15-year-old game’s shoddy graphics because “the gameplay makes up for it.” With both film and games, it’s easy for us to pull the pieces apart than to view the work as a whole- especially when we know the inner workings of how they are made and how many people are involved.

Richard>Virtual worlds with no overall vision have no soul. They're like novels with multiple authors - the superficial reigns, any depth is contrived.

Auteurs understand what they're designing more than a committee of designers ever could, even if those designers are individually smarter than the auteur. The result is a better-designed virtual world.

I think of these two points, the first is the most important and easiest to consider a rule. If we consider a game to be a “total art work” in the Wagnerian sense, what matters is that each action of every contributor serves the ultimate goal of the piece, no action without a direction or purpose.

It’s this cohesiveness to the vision that seems the most important to me, whether the vision was produced by one or multiple people. While multiple people do have to dilute their ideas to contribute to a vision, I don’t know that the vision of one person is better than one arrived at through collaboration.

I don’t think the example we’ve been using of films and directors is necessarily as simple as the directors being auteurs because they have the final word on the product. In my mind, the director is not the auteur because they take all the work of other people and put it together in the last stage- how different is that really from what a programmer does on a game? Auteurship for me seems to be embodied by the creation of the vision, which might not always be done best by just one person.

The number of “director’s cut” films we’ve seen over the years suggests to me that when a film is made, its ideal form is defined by more than that one person. Sometimes we even see fans editing films to bring them closer to some sort of elusive essence that the director may have missed.

I wish I could come to a conclusion as to how we know that a Blizzard game is a “Blizzard Game”, and a Maxis game is a “Will Wright Game.” It seems like the distinction has to be made in retrospect and on a case-by-case basis. I do know that both of those examples probably have one person who have the final say on them. What's the difference? Maybe it's because when we retrospectively evaluate oeuvres, we see that Will Wright was making good games before Maxis was designing games all by his lonesome long before he started working for Maxis

Perhaps it’s easier to attribute a game to one person because we remember a time when a person actually could produce a game all by themselves if they wanted (and to a certain extent this is true now). In a hundred years, when games are n times more complicated and labor intensive, and nobody remembers the days of design teams of one auteurship really will have died. Or maybe it will just have been adapted through https://www.gamasutra.com/features/20040520/moledina_01.shtml ">marketing and the rockstar mentality that some developers seem to advocate.

26.

My experiences of MMO development have been far more like trying to sail a ship in a hurricane than any considered, deliberate creation of art.

The wind is blasting in from every direction at once, waves are crashing over the deck and knocking everyone off their feet and overboard. Sails are being ripped to ribbons. Everyone is blinded by spray and deafened by the noise. The "Auteur" is at the helm trying to keep a steady course while the wheel is being wrestled from their grasp. The crew are trying to hear his commands over the roar and act on them while shouting out warnings and advice in return.

This terrifying situation seems to last forever and at various points the crew lose confidence in the Auteur and replace him, or they give up trying to hear his shouted commands and just do whatever they can to keep the ship afloat. If they're lucky the ship eventually makes some kind of landfall and the crew gratefully throw themselves on to dry land utterly exhausted and not caring much whether it was where they originally planned to go or not.

After all that, the real Auteur, driven by a passion for what he does, is the one who subjects himself to the horrific ordeal again, determined to learn from his experience and make landfall closer to his intended destination next time.

Who is the author of a game?

Honestly, in the case of MMOs at the moment technology hurdles, limited resources and changing markets author the games as much as any human being.

27.

Lots of good stuff here. Just to go to one important point, Jim's last comment is exactly one of the things that's most on my mind. If I am concerned about the impact of a Foucauldian erasure of the author function on cultural studies generally, it's because this tends to reinforce the way that one style of cultural studies (including writing about games) is painfully incurious about how popular culture actually gets produced. It's important to know about the details of the process of production both so we don't make naive claims about intentionality and meaning, which all but the most hardcore poststructralist writings tend to make in ways that necessarily reference authors (or auteurs), and so we don't make naive claims about the nature of the particular segment of the "culture industry" that we're talking about.

In the case of Hollywood films, for example, it often seems naive to me to read a certain kind of authorial intention into the trends in themes that might appear in a single year's films, the way many middlebrow AND academic film critics do. Film critics find a zeitgeist the way a psychic can invariably see a handsome stranger in her customers' future. If you know much about the interior details of the movie business, this becomes deeply questionable on several fronts--the films that appear in a given year appear out of very different developmental histories, and the processes by which films get approved and made is famously, often hilariously, shambolic. In many ways the movie industry is less capitalist and more feudalist, and asserting that it is driven by a rational quest for forging a profitable connection to the existing zeitgeist doesn't really fit the realities of how films get shaped and authored. It takes a post facto datum and shoehorns it backwards.

We do the same with games sometimes too, and thinking more about the processes of authorship, which have changed markedly over time with games, is important, as is thinking about the sociological habitus of the designers themselves.

But authorship isn't just a function that we can edit out with a quick theoretical flourish: I think it does exist in games. It just exists heterogenously and inconsistently. In many ways I think it's only discernible historically. If Molyneux's games share common flaws and common strengths over time, in different eras of game production and marketing, I think it starts to become clear that there is indeed a guiding "vision" there. On the other hand, sometimes a "house style" is just a convenience, not a vision--a particular developer might stick with isometric perspectives because, well, they're used to them, not because of any great aesthetic conviction that isometric is the proper representational choice for the type of game that they're crafting.

This is no different in cultural history generally--I think one of the hard things to sort out is where you have "willful interventions" in an aesthetic, where you have serendipities that get interpreted as "willful interventions" and where you have inertial reproduction of past tropes, metaphors, genres, modes. Usually to recognize the difference you have to know something about the interior of the process of cultural production--you can't just "read" this out of a given text.

28.

I basically agree with all that, Tim -- as a matter of locating a stance for the interpretation and criticism of games. (And again, I'm as much or more interested in players in the case of games than I am in authors, but putting that aside.)

The dilemma I'm struggling with now is this: if we have the ability to shape the dynamics of marketing collaborative artistic production toward or away from some type of empirical "honesty" in attribution (which, as Greg notes, is not particularly difficult in the case of electronic media), is there a benefit to recognizing celebrity game auteurs and not just abandoning the author function as an interpretive fetish? I believe that even if the auteur's importance is overrated in terms of the game production process (Richard would argue it isn't overrated, I suppose) celebrity auteurs in middlebrow criticism might actually lead to superior dynamic for the promotion of better games.

I'll try to post the paper on SSRN soon -- it would clarify the legal context of all of this a bit, and explain why I've got this peculiar policy problem with balancing what is, in some sense at least, the correct attribution with the attribution that works best in practice.

29.

greglas>I believe that even if the auteur's importance is overrated in terms of the game production process (Richard would argue it isn't overrated, I suppose)

At the moment, I feel the auteur's role is underrated. I'd certainly say that UO was more Raph Koster's than Richard "father of online gaming" Garriott's, for example. However, that doesn't mean I can't feel that the auteur's role will always be underrated: some future interpretation might overrate it.

Richard

30.

Took a while, but the paper is posted on SSRN now.
https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=656441

31.

Whoops -- link changed...

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=656138

I would post about it, but it has very little to do with VWs.

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